Observer 22nd November 2015 Jay Rayner
Lunchtime on a sparkling autumn day and I am in a Scottish fishing village which is so perfect it looks as if its construction has been overseen by a film production designer with an acute eye for detail. Old stone, whitewashed buildings crowd in along the curving quayside, and in places the road is strewn with seaweed from when the tide last came in. Because here in St Monans, in the East Neuk of Fife, the place where the land ends and the sea begins feels as if it’s negotiable.
At its heart is a small stone pier and, on it, a blue-painted building, the East Pier Smokehouse, which, I have decided, is the most perfect place in all the world right now. It was launched a few years back by James Robb, an Edinburgh-based contract caterer, to produce various products for retail and for his own purposes. Then two years ago he began opening it for food on the premises. You order downstairs, then take a number and wander up to the simple white-painted dining room in the attic upstairs, with its wood-fired burner. There are views of the crashing waves on both sides and, out back, a terrace for warmer days.
The food is brought up to you in cardboard boxes, though there is a station holding plates and cutlery if you are desperate for such fripperies. There is a whole sea bass, hot-smoked until the skin is the colour of tarnished bronze and the flesh just falling away from its bones, the oils gently running. It is a sometimes bland fish turned into something rich and hefty and regal, all for £12.50. Their own sweet-sour chutney with the crack and burst of whole pink peppercorns closes the deal. There is fresh local lobster – £17.50 per beast – with chips made by someone who cares, and a pungent smoked fish curry full of haddock and mussels and attitude. Even the basmati rice on the other side of the box is cooked precisely.
I run downstairs, to babble enthusiasm and delight and to check on opening times. “Oh, this is the last weekend,” I’m told. Sorry? “Yup. After tomorrow we’re closed until Easter 2016.” I am a crap restaurant critic. Useless. A waste of space. I am telling you about a brilliant place you can’t visit until next year. Shame on me. But I’m doing so partly because you need to know about it, and partly because it puts in stark relief what happened next.